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Devon Wins

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Devon Camber was overwhelmingly elected to the City Council from Oakland’s District 4.

There was a big party that night at his campaign headquarters. Rainbow-colored balloons dropped. Music blared: Beyoncé, local favorite Babyloaf, old Motown. Liquor flowed freely. Five hundred people munched on pizza, sushi, egg rolls, all donated by restaurants that believed in Devon Camber and were glad to contribute to his cause. The new council member, impeccable in tailored jeans and a tucked-in blue dress shirt open at the neck, made the rounds, high-fiving friends and supporters, conferring privately with a few, generously patting others on the back and flashing the thousand-watt smile. In the rear of the hall, in the shadows, Flambé stood alone, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in her manicured hand.

Nick too was there—he’d volunteered for Devon’s campaign, more as a favor to Flambé than any particular devotion to the candidate. He’d even hosted a “meet Devon Camber” party at the apartment. Nick made his way to Flambé’s side.

“You look lonely.”

“I’m not. Just happy.”

“I’m happy for you.” They both looked to Devon: larger than life, at the peak of his success, debonair, powerful, and it was all just beginning.

“I sometimes wonder,” Flambé said, “what he really wants.”

“To be President?” It had the form of a question, but wasn’t, really. Nick’s mind wandered over some of the Democratic Presidents he’d been aware of in his 28 years. Clinton—Obama—both must have shown the same ambition as this young, aggressively charming achiever. Both had climbed to the top. Nick had once run into Gavin Newsom at some public event, when the latter was San Francisco’s Mayor, and thought: “He’s in a hurry.” Devon reminded him of a younger Newsom.

Devon, in his victory speech, proclaimed his top priority now that he was in city government: homelessness and the high cost of housing. “For too long, this city and its leaders have had big things to say about the housing crisis, but have done little if anything to deal with it,” he said, in Kennedy-esque tones, to great applause. “I am as tired as you of the encampments, the people sleeping in bus stops and storefronts. I am determined to solve this problem in the city of Oakland, and protect human rights.”

Just what he specifically meant, he did not spell out. Perhaps he had some ideas; perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he thought that, over time, the ideas would come or, alternatively, the need for them would go away. It is in the nature of politicians to stall, to play for time. Besides, even before he was sworn in to his new office, Devon was already looking beyond the Oakland City Council, to the Mayor’s Office; and beyond that, to—where? Governor, Senator, there was no limit. He might have to do a stint in some insignificant office, like Lieutenant-Governor: look how Newsom had used that to launch a governorship that already had put him in the national spotlight.

Still, Devon understood that he must not get ahead of himself. He had first to succeed as a councilmember. And the measure of his success, he knew, was to be perceived as tackling the homeless problem. The media would demand it; his constituents would demand it. He could not fudge a solution: the number of bodies in the streets would be the final arbiter of whether or not he kept his promises.

Two weeks later Devon was sworn in. His new office, in City Hall, had his name on the door, in gold-leaf:


He sat himself at his new desk and looked out the window at Frank Ogawa Plaza below, at City Center across the way, at a few makeshift tents on the expansive lawn. Later, he reminded himself, there was a reception for the new Council members, to be held in Mayor Schaaf’s office.

Two days later, a Wednesday, a body was found: a 47-year old white male, apparently homeless, sprawled beside a pile of trash next to a ragged tent, under a Nimitz overpass, west of Chinatown. The man had been shot in the head, between the eyes, and had died instantly, according to the Coroner. There was no suspect, no motive, just a dead body nobody much cared about.

But he had a name: William James Duquene. They knew that from the hospital bracelet he wore around his left wrist. It showed he had recently been brought to the emergency room at Kaiser and treated, after being found drunk and unconscious in a pouring rain. He had spent the night in the hospital and was released the next morning. The examining physician was Dr. Edwin Wu.

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